October 11, 2010

Forcing the Black Community to Confront Homophobia

When I was an undergrad, I went to see a speech by world reknown poet and author Nikki Giovanni. Her speech changed my life, and completely brought to the fore my own budding political and ideological beliefs. I sat in a room full of my peers – other African-American students at my University – while Giovanni challenged us to move on past our own homophobia, and to not let the racism and privilege that still sits near to the hearts of many of our white classmates deter us from greatness.

She pointed out that we should be less concerned with winning hearts and minds as we are concerned with ensuring equal treatment and equal access – essentially, the end of privilege. Racism is a cancer we may never be able to remove from the human psyche, but racist behavior and the curse of privilege is much easier to attack.

She noted that she hadn’t cared what was in the heart of someone who wasn’t sleeping in bed next to her for years – what was important was how people treated each other in the real world; the doors they opened and the doors they closed.

She also said she was tired of the homophobia in the Black community, and that if we kept this up we were destined to repeat the oppressions and mistakes of the same people who tormented us and marginalized us – she reminded us to be all-inclusive and to fight hatred wherever it rears its ugly head and in whatever form, even if it’s couched in religion and hurled at us from the pulpit of our churches.

She was absolutely right, and to this day I’m irritated at the homophobia in the Black community. Admittedly much of it is religiously driven and I’m not horribly religious, which puts me on the outside of a lot of it, but it still tears at me greatly.

Over at Alternet, Devona Walker is irritated at it as well, and wonders if the Eddie Long sex scandal will force us all to come face to face with its ugliness for what it is:

Atlanta megachurch Bishop Eddie Long faces four lawsuits from young men — either members of his congregation or employed by his church — who alleged that Long coerced them into sex. The news broke a few weeks ago and has caused a huge uproar within the black church community. But black lesbian, gay and transgendered folks as well as numerous civil rights leaders wonder if Long’s downfall could open the door for a long overdue conversation about homophobia in the black church. It also offers an opportunity for the black church to distinguish itself from the anti-gay rhetoric of white evangelicals and reclaim its historical place as being primarily about civil rights, as opposed to hate.

“We have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy within the black community and the black church. As long as you don’t disclose your sexuality, you can be on the usher board, you can be in the pulpit, but don’t you dare talk about it,” said Darion Aaron, a black gay Christian, activist and author who lives in Atlanta. “And it’s killing us as a community, and it’s killing gay and lesbian members of the black church who have to go to church and listen to that mental abuse. We are more accepting of a rapist or a murderer than an unrepentant gay and lesbian.”

Aaron says the gay community in Atlanta has known for some time that Long was a hypocrite. He has personally seen the bishop on numerous occasions out at the mall with young, attractive men who were either gay or bisexual. The gay community in Atlanta is upset, he says, by the hypocrisy, but not surprised.

“When the news broke,” Aaron said. “It was like, ‘Oh, there it is.”

On the upside, Aaron says the accusations have touched off numerous conversations in Metro Atlanta about gay African Americans and their place in the black church. The black church has historically accepted gay folks as long as they kept silent about their sexuality. Many African American gays and lesbians have accepted these limited roles for the sake of having a place within the black community. You can walk into just about any black church in the country and find dozens of gay folks present. Gay men are leading the choir. They are ushering you to your seat. They are cooking the church’s Sunday dinner.

“Gay men and lesbians have always been present in the black church, actively engaged at that,” said Joshua Altson in a Sept. 23 Newsweek.com article. “The prevalence of gay men in black church choirs and bands, for example, is accepted but not widely discussed. The unspoken agreement is that gay men get to act as seraphim, so long as they are willing to shout in agreement as they are being flagellated from the pulpit. It’s an indignity some gay men subject themselves to each and every Sunday. Why should they have to live this way?”

Alston recalled how another black pastor in Atlanta, Dennis Meredith, had gone from espousing anti-gay views to “preaching acceptance” once his own son came out as gay. While some parishioners left, rather than hear a message of love and acceptance for gays, they were replaced by new congregants looking for a church that would accept and affirm them.

“Long’s predicament is bringing back to the surface the endless debate over whether or not homosexuality is fundamentally moral or acceptable, a debate that preachers like Long have prolonged with their bigoted teachings,” Alston wrote. “It’s about the black community on the whole and whether or not gay men and lesbians are going to be considered full citizens in it.”

Ray Taliaferro, of the San Francisco Bay area, is just one of many longtime civil rights activists who have used the Long scandal as an opportunity to blast black homophobia.

“It is inhumane to do what black people do when they approach the issue of homosexuality,” Taliaferro told the San Francisco Examiner. “Why is it that black people, my people, feel they got to get up in the pulpit and they have to condemn a very active segment of the population of our society who happen to be gay, who happen to be homosexual?”

Taliaferro is a former San Francisco NAACP president and has been a choir director for years at several churches in San Francisco.

I’ve wondered for a while – and said for a while publicly – that maybe it’s time for some of the old guard leadership of the Black community – those who so courageously led us through the Civil Rights Movement and the darkest days of the 50s, 60s, and 70s – now retire and appreciate how far we’ve come in that time, and let the young ones who are more familiar with and able to adapt to this new age take the lead now.

The world is different now, the threats to our freedom are different, and many disparate communities being attacked by privilege and hate need the bolster and support of other communities that have been through it and have learned that only be coming together can you face down hatred and injustice.

I can only hope – for the sake of our communities and for the sake of Black people as a unified force for social justice and equality everywhere – that we can get past this, and those of our community that are religious can begin to preach the gospel of acceptance and love instead of thumping the bible in darkness and out of hatred.

[ Will the Eddie Long Sex Scandal Force Black Churches to Confront Their Homophobia? ]
Source: AlterNet

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